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Do You Have a Breakout or Folliculitis?

Most of us have been there at some point: we’re in the jacuzzi or at the beach on a hot summer day, we get in the water, and a short time later we notice a breakout on our bikini line, back, or chest. Or maybe you just had a long day and you notice those small red bumps pop up.

It’s never fun - and it can be confusing! Is it a simple breakout? Folliculitis? Allergies? Something else?

Here’s how to tell the difference between a breakout and folliculitis – and what to do about each problem.

Folliculitis 101

Folliculitis, quite simply, is inflammation of the hair follicles. It can appear anywhere on the body where there is hair, including the buttocks, arms, legs, back, and the groin area.

There are manythings that can irritate hair follicles and cause folliculitis, including:

  • Sweat
  • Bacteria
  • Yeast
  • Dry skin
  • Hot tubs
  • Shaving with an old razor
  • Rubbing
  • Friction
  • Wearing tight clothes

As you can see, the list is long and varied.

There are also two main types of folliculitis: sterile folliculitis and infectious folliculitis.

  • Sterile folliculitis, for one, is often caused by things like shaving with a dull razor, wearing tight-fitting clothes, or wearing sweaty clothes for a long period of time.
  • Infectious folliculitis, on the other hand, is most often bacterial (though it can less commonly be viral or fungal in nature). It’s usually caused by staph bacteria or acne-causing bacteria

Acne 101

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Acne, on the other hand, can often include inflammation or cause inflammation down the line. That said, acne is primarily caused when hair follicles become clogged by dirt, debris, oil, and dead skin cells.

Folliculitis can eventually cause acne, as it can close up the pores and make that dirt, debris, and bacteria become trapped. That said, acne can also be caused by things like:

  • Bacteria
  • Excess oil or sebum production
  • Clogged hair follicles
  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Medication
  • Hormonal changes

These factors can lead to many types of acne, including:

  • Whiteheads, which are closed plugged pores
  • Blackheads, which are open clogged pores
  • Papules, which are small, red, tender bumps on the skin
  • Pimples, which are papules with pus at their tips
  • Nodules, while are large, painful lumps under the skin
  • Cysts, which are painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin

How to Tell the Difference Between Acne and Folliculitis

Clearly, there is some overlap between the two, but there are key distinctions between acne and folliculitis. If you’re trying to distinguish between the two, look for signs of folliculitis like:

  • Spots with red rings around them
  • Small red bumps or whiteheads
  • Painful red or pussy bumps, which can indicate acne or infectious folliculitis

You can also talk to a dermatologist directly, and they will be able to tell for sure.

How to Treat Folliculitis

If it turns out that you have folliculitis, you can treat it with:

  • Topical or oral antibiotics
  • Antibacterial cleanser with ingredients like glycolic acid
  • Laser hair removal, which can offer a long-term solution
  • Making sure you never touch the red spots
  • Chemical exfoliant, which can help get rid of dead skin and ease both folliculitis and acne.

And, of course, make sure that you wear moisture-wicking clothes, shower directly after a workout, and use non-comedogenic products.